St. Petersburg Times Online: Opinion

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Graham's opposition to the resolution to wage war

By U.S. SEN. BOB GRAHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2002


U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was one of the 21 Senate Democrats who recently voted against a resolution authorizing President Bush to wage war against Iraq. The resolution passed by a vote of 77 to 23. The following is an excerpt from the speech Graham made on the Senate floor explaining his opposition:

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was one of the 21 Senate Democrats who recently voted against a resolution authorizing President Bush to wage war against Iraq. The resolution passed by a vote of 77 to 23. The following is an excerpt from the speech Graham made on the Senate floor explaining his opposition:

* * *

In my service in the Senate, I have not shied away from authorizing the use of force, when I believed it was in our nation's interest. I voted to use force in the Persian Gulf in 1991. I voted to use force in Bosnia in 1992. I voted to use force in Kosovo in 1999. I have given the president of the United States a presumption of correctness in his assessment of our national security interest. But tonight I have to vote no on this resolution. The reason is that this resolution is too timid. It is too limited. It is too weak. This resolution fails to recognize the new reality of the era of terrorism.

And that reality is that war abroad will, without assertive security action, increase the prospects of terrorist attacks here at home. In fact, war on Iraq alone leaves Americans more vulnerable to the threat that is facing us today -- those international terrorist organizations that have the capability to inflict upon us a repeat of the tragedy of Sept. 11.

... Some said I was incorrect in my contention that our Commander in Chief lacks the power to expand the war on terrorism beyond al-Qaida. I disagree, but I will not repeat the legal arguments I made. But even accepting the fact that I might disagree, how is it in the interest of our nation's security to leave the question in doubt as to whether the president has the authority to attack these international terrorist organizations that represent such a lethal threat to the people of the United States. There have been some past administrations which have allowed leaders of rogue states to be uncertain as to how America would respond if they used weapons of mass destruction. This administration should not repeat that fundamental error.

If we want to deter the world's terrorists and madmen, shouldn't we tell them -- in the most explicit ways -- what would happen in retaliation to their action?

I would also like to reinforce my conviction that this resolution forces the president to focus our military and intelligence on the wrong target. A historical example, which has been used in this debate, is the example of the 1930s -- that England, France and other nations would eventually join in the world's greatest alliance slept, while Hitler's power grew.

They say that passing this resolution is the equivalent of if the Alllies had declared war on Hitler. I disagree with that assessment of what this lesson of history means. In my judgment, passing this resolution tonight will be the equivalent of declaring war on Italy. That is not what we should be doing. We should not just be declaring war on Mussolini's Italy. We should be declaring war on Hitler's Germany.

Now, there are good reasons for considering attacking today's Italy, meaning Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity. But the briefings I have received have shown that trying to block him and any necessary nuclear materials have been largely successful, as evidenced by the recent intercept of centrifuge tubes. And he is years away from having nuclear capability. So why does it make sense to attack this era's Italy, and not Germany, especially when by attacking Italy, we are making Germany a more probable adversary?

The CIA has warned us that international terrorist organizations will probably use United States action against Iraq as an indication for striking us here in the homeland. You might ask, what does the word "probably" mean in intelligence speak? It probably means that there is a 75 percent greater chance of the event occurring. And the event is that international terrorist organizations will use United States actions against Iraq as a justification for striking us here in the homeland.

Let me read a declassified briefing of the CIA report presented to the Select Committee on Intelligence: "Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. Should Saddam conclude that U.S-led attacks could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or (chemical and biological weapons).

"Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamic terrorists in conducting a weapon-of-mass destruction attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him."

In other words, odds of another strike against the people of the United States by al-Qaida or another international terrorist group goes up when we attack Baghdad.

The president should be in the most advantageous position to protect Americans -- to launch pre-emptive strikes and hack off the heads of these snakes. With the resolution before us, we are denying the president that opportunity. And we are sending confusing signals to our people and to our allies as to the sincerity of our commitment to the war on terrorism.

When our allies gave the president their whole-hearted support for the war on terrorism after Sept. 11, they cheered our efforts against Osama bin Laden and the government of Afghanistan. A year after we commenced that war, action in Afghanistan has ground to a virtual halt, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and we have not moved aggressively beyond Afghanistan to gain knowledge of al-Qaida operatives in other parts of the world. We also know of sanctuaries -- training camps -- where the next generation of terrorists are being trained and they are going unattacked.

With sadness, I predict we will live to regret this day, Oct. 10, 2002, the day we stood by and we allowed these terrorist organizations to continue growing in the shadows. It may be days, weeks, months or years before they strike Americans again, and we will have allowed them to grow that capability.

If we are going to pass this resolution, and I expect that we will, there are several things we should say that we need to protect the American people. In the region of the Middle East, we face a constellation of challenges, threats and commitments for the United States.

We need to use this period of time to reduce the threatening environment in that area by active, sustained U.S. diplomacy on two, half-century-old disputes. The dispute in Israel and Palestine and the dispute over Kashmir, the festering sore between two nuclear powers -- India and Pakistan.

Second, the president a year ago should have ordered all of the law enforcement agencies under his control to design a comprehensive means of determining the number, location and capability of terrorists who are living among us. But tonight, no one can tell us which one and how, where, when the various organizations can hurt us.

This, I consider to be a stunning admission and an unnecessary vulnerability. At this late hour, this much action should be of the most urgent priority. This should be done, of course, within the confines to the protections afforded to all of the persons by the Constitution of the United States.

Third, we should be moving to detain all of those who can be legally detained who represent a threat to the United States.

Fourth, the president should direct military forces to prepare to execute a full-fledged war on terrorism. We must complete our mission in Afghanistan and then move to the next targets in al-Qaida cells outside Afghanistan.

And finally, I would advise the president to request of the Congress the authorities he needs to declare the war on terror and specifically the authority to use force against those international terrorist organizations with the greatest capability to kill Americans here at home, with the greatest evil intent against Americans, and with the largest number of terrorist operatives located in the United States.

The people need to know that the government is doing all that it can to keep them safe. Tonight, many Americans are anxious and frightened. They have cause to be. One year ago, letters carrying anthrax killed five Americans, including one in my home state, and created great concern. That case has not yet been solved. One year later, here in the capital region, a sniper is taking lives of innocent people going about their daily activities.

... In these frightening times, it is irresponsible to add to the anxiety of the American people by going to war with Iraq without taking the additional steps required to curtail the possibility of more horrors being inflicted upon our homeland. This resolution fails to take those steps. Different people have different opinions of what our national security priorities should be. Clearly some, including the president, believe the first priority should be regime change in Baghdad. Others believe our first priority should be to disarm Iraq by removing its weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has many challenges, threats and priorities to respond to, particularly in the region of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Israel-Palestinian conflict, India-Pakistan, the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. Even if we say the No. 1 issue should be containing weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, I frankly do not believe that Iraq should be our first concern.

We do not know the full capabilities of the state of Israel, although we believe it has the full capability to defend itself against attacks or the threat of an attack. We are aware of the significant threats posed by India, Pakistan and Iran. But I can say without fear of contradiction, all of these possess substantially greater capability and means of delivering weapons of mass destruction than does Iraq. Of all of the issues that we care about, and those over which we have some ability to determine the outcome, in my judgment, the No. 1 priority should be the war on terrorism and the protection of the people in the United States, our homeland. Our top targets should be those groups that have the greatest potential to repeat what happened on Sept. 11, killing thousands of Americans.

This timid resolution, I fear, will only increase the chance of Americans being killed, and that is not a burden of probability that I am prepared to take. Therefore I will vote no.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.